JACKSON, Miss.- Jackson State University (JSU) alum D. Caleb Smith, M.A., has been selected to join the 2022-2023 class of the Mellon/American Council of Learned Studies (ACLS) Dissertation Completion Fellows. Each fellow will receive a stipend to support the final year of dissertation research and writing.
“[This award] endorses your writing as a significant contribution. It’s validation that this is something worthy of being studied, and it’s understudied,” said Smith on receiving his award.
The Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships support advanced graduate students in the last year of Ph.D. dissertation writing to help them complete projects in the humanities and interpretive social sciences that will form the foundations of their scholarly careers.
Since its launch in 2006, the program has supported more than 1,000 promising emerging scholars with research fellowships and professional development programming.
Smith applied for the fellowship in October of 2021 and said waiting for the response was at times agonizing, but receiving the honor reassures the validity of his argument.
“You’re sleeping in suspense for months, but the humbling aspect is that it lets you know the writing is not particularly done. It just reached a stopping point,” he said. “
Smith further added that The ACLS/Mellon fellowship allows for a steady but efficient pass of dissertation writing with the valuable opportunity for more research.
“More importantly, the fellowship will allow me to sit in the kitchens and on the front porches with the families of Louisiana’s Black leaders to conduct oral history interviews,” Smith said.
A native of Clinton, Smith earned a master’s degree in history from JSU in 2016. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. from Tulane University. His dissertation is entitled: “Been on the Shop Floor too Long – Black Labor After The 1964 Civil Rights Act.” This study uses the nearly two-decade-long racial discrimination case Parson v. Kaiser as a microcosm in investigating the development of Title VII in its first twenty years.
In 1967, Harris Parson filed suit against the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation with charges of racial discrimination at the company’s plant in Chalmette, Louisiana. Parson filed a lawsuit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited workplace discrimination. By June 1984, the Times Picayune reported that Parson successfully sued the Kaiser company in an 18-year-long struggle.
The courts awarded Parson $113,000 in backpay. Other African Americans who were a part of the class action lawsuit received roughly $3 million — using the Parson case as a thread, Smith’s dissertation surveys significant Title VII cases in Louisiana cities and towns.
“I truly look forward to writing the first labor and legal history of Louisiana’s Black freedom struggle. While the labor activism of Bogalusa’s Robert Hicks and A.Z. Young is well-cited, the voices and workplace struggle of Harris Parson, Charles Watkins, Clarence “Chink” Henry, and others are not,” added Smith.
Byron Orey, Ph.D., a former professor of Smith, talked about the achievement. “It is very rewarding to witness him evolve into the scholar that he has become. This is a major accomplishment,” he said.
Through the Mellon/ ACLS fellowship, Smith anticipates completing his dissertation by Spring 2023.
Smith has exhibited a longstanding interest in history and education. From 2015 -2017, Smith taught U.S history (1877-Present) in the Clinton Public School System. At Tulane University, Smith taught modern African American freedom and topics in community engagement. He has presented papers virtually to American Studies associations in five different countries, including the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies housed in Johannes Gutenburg University in Mainz, Germany.
This summer, Smith said he looks forward to virtually presenting a sample of his dissertation to the Historians of the Twentieth-Century United States (HOTCUS) annual meeting hosted by the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.